Prepare for lots of green ink in this week’s Times: it’s our St. Patrick’s Day edition. As an Irishman, I’ve been quite amazed at how popular the day is around the world. World sites light up in green: the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the Golden Gate Bridge. Why this Irish national day, rather than some other country’s? Perhaps it’s because you find the Irish everywhere, Ireland is a country with a long and sad history of emigration, after all. Perhaps it’s the culture: music, writers, actors; in fact, storytellers in all forms. The Irish do love language, especially since their own was mainly lost to them through colonisation.
Ireland is both an ancient land, and a nation marking 100 years of political independence for the Republic this year. It is impossible to grow up in Ireland without being aware of history. Where I went to school, a 13th Century Norman castle stood on the grounds. Drimnagh Castle was built in the reign of King John (of Robin Hood fame), and throughout the centuries after was regularly attacked by Gaelic tribes from the nearby Wicklow mountains, the O’Tooles. My best friend in school was Chris O’Toole, from Wicklow. Both my father and grandfather served in the Home Guard in World War II, stationed in Drimnagh Castle: history is never far away.
Everywhere you go in Ireland, you’ll find ruins of castles and houses, from as far back as pre-Celtic times, right up to the 1916-1921 period, when much of central Dublin was destroyed by artillery, some British and some Irish.
Our songs, poetry, music and stories stem from a tradition millenia old. The oldest man-made structure in the world, they say, dating back 5,000 years, is called, with classic Irish understatement, Newgrange. It’s in the Boyne Valley, a place made infamous by a certain battle in 1790 and still remembered annually by the Orange Order on July 12.
Ireland, they say, has too much history and too little geography. But what geography! To travel through Ireland is to become almost numb, overwhelmed by the beauty you see around you. Yes, perhaps there are many reasons why the Irish national day is marked all over the world. That is the positive side of being Irish, and, for this week, that’s where the emphasis lies. Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!